March 23, 2017

Friends’ School Team Wins Boulder Regional Competition

Team Illuminati: Evan, Rowan, Carson & Zhenren
For the second year in a row, a group of Friends’ fifth graders has advanced to the Colorado State competition for Destination Imagination.

Last Saturday, after competing with teams from around Boulder, Friends’ students Carson, Zhenren, Rowan and Evan, collectively known as Team Illuminati, won first place in the Boulder Regional Contest.

The Destination Imagination program is a fun, hands-on system of learning that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning.  Team Illuminati’s focus was on engineering, or “In It Together.”

The Destination Imagination program also encourages critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, risk taking and self-confidence through challenges that kids have to solve and present at a tournament.  These are many of the same skills Friends’ School fosters in our children.

There can be no parent involvement in the creation of the solution. This is 100% student driven. And these are not easy challenges. A large part of the team’s score is based on how the students demonstrate the skills listed above. In addition to presenting their main challenge that they have developed over several weeks, teams also have to solve an “instant” challenge - one in which they have a time limit of 5-7 minutes to complete after they hear the directions.

I interviewed three of the team members and all told me that the instant challenge was top secret, not to be shared for the integrity of next year’s competition.  What I can tell you is that the team chose, as their performance piece, a scenario of two countries working together to solve an international issue.  The boys selected the issue of global warming because it is so relevant to the national conversation, and because they are concerned about the very real effects on the planet now.

They also had to build a structure out of balsa wood and glue.  Team Illuminati chose to forego the glue to save weight, and ended up designing and building a structure that held 395 lbs!  And they received a 30% bonus for their unique triangular design.

Heading into the evening awards ceremony, our fifth graders told me how nervous they were. All except Rowan, who felt confident that first place was in sight.  What they learned was that
hard work and practice pay off.  The team practiced together, with their coaches, Catherine Meng and Herb Blecher, for four whole months, three times a week.

Herb and Catherine volunteered to coach the team because they love spending time with their kids. They pointed out that one of the things that impressed them the most, in working with the team, was how the boys learned to handle stress under pressure. 

They also told me how much they grew in respect for teachers everywhere.  “Teaching is hard!” Catherine told me. She learned how to help the individual team members see their strengths and challenges, and how to support them to learn to work together in ways that complement each other. Herb feels so proud of the team’s accomplishments, he describes it as “up there with anything I’ve done professionally.”  That is praise indeed.

Upon hearing news of the victory at Regionals, the team jumped with excitement!  They will now compete in Denver, at the state level, on April 22nd, with a chance to go to the global competition in Knoxville, TN in May.

Congratulations to them all, students and coaches, and all the best at state!

March 16, 2017

Sir Ken, Brené, Ted (and Me)

Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D.
If you are a fan of TED Talks, I wish you had been able to accompany me to Baltimore two weeks ago to the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools.  It was a TED fan’s dream line up.

TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks of 18 minutes or less. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Education, and the future of education, is a frequent topic.

Google the most watched TED Talks of all time and two of the keynote speakers in Baltimore, are listed in the top four: Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Brené Brown.

Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.  They are all great reads.

Brené Brown, Ph.D.
Her talk to educators was both entertaining and story-filled, yet her serious message was one of personal reflection.  As teachers, she encouraged us to be aware of and share with our students our own vulnerability, and then in turn, to support our students to be aware of their own vulnerability.  By learning to admit and grow from our mistakes is where the magic happens.

Our Friends’ School teachers know this only too well.  They model a growth mindset and frequently discuss with the children that it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s important to own them, and then to learn from them to do it in a different way next time.

Sir Ken Robinson, whose #1 viewed TED talk has been watched more than 44 million times, is from Liverpool, England and now lives in Los Angeles.  I am currently reading his latest book, Creative Schools, which I highly recommend.  His talk in Baltimore was particularly inspirational, especially to a crowd of independent school educators. 

Robinson is a powerful voice for transforming the way we do education in the U.S.  He argues for an end to our outmoded industrial educational system and proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century.

Independent schools, particularly progressive, forward-thinking schools like Friends’, are the leaders in this innovation.  Because of our size and autonomy, the fact that we are not beholden to a giant bureaucracy or government policy, the teachers at Friends’ are able to adapt to the latest educational research and really spend essential time and energy truly getting to know our students  - how they learn, what they love, and how to challenge them in their learning.  We are able to deliver a highly personalized approach to education and we are proud to say that we do indeed engage all our students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century.

Even Brené Brown has said that “Ken Robinson is leading a daring revolution to change how we understand schools, learning, and most importantly, the passion and talent of our students. This is a global game-changer and I'm in.”

I encourage you to watch these TED talks and read these books.  Thank you for being part of our school where we continue to be at the forefront of innovative educational thinking.

March 9, 2017

Jamestown, Mesa Verde, Mount Rushmore and Beyond

Our 3rd grade class preparing to go to Cal-Wood yesterday
If you are coming to our South Campus this morning, you won’t see our third graders being dropped off for class.  They have spent the night up at Cal-Wood Education Center above Jamestown.

On Thursday morning, the 3rd graders trooped into school weighed down by backpacks, hiking boots, and water bottles, prepared to spend a couple of days in the great outdoors. At Cal-Wood each year, two of our classes (3rd and 4th grades) make the trek into the foothills north of Boulder to participate in a wide variety of outdoor learning opportunities.

These excursions are just part of Friends’ extensive age-appropriate trips program that takes our students and teachers both close to and far from home.

Harper, 5th grade, orienteering just
yesterday in Golden
The trips program starts in 2nd grade with an overnight experience in our Great Room at the elementary school.  Students ‘camp’ with their teachers and a few gallant parents indoors, in tents that are not too intense (!), and learn from a science expert whom we bring in to work with the students.  For most, it is their first ‘official’ night away from home, and it’s a great experience.

In 3rd and 4th grade, our students visit Cal-Wood on a one-night and then subsequent two-night trip.

Each year, our 5th grade class embarks on a five-day, four-night, trip to the Four Corners region of Colorado.  They have a week-long educational experience at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center which is dedicated to understanding, teaching, and helping to preserve the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo people (the Anasazi) of the American Southwest. There, they spend three full days learning the basics of Pueblo Indian history, excavating at a site that represents different time periods, and participating in a variety of "ancient lifestyle" activities at Crow Canyon’s pithouse and pueblo learning centers. Their program wraps up with a day-long tour of Mesa Verde National Park, where our students explore the spectacular cliff dwellings and other
5th graders at Mesa Verde National Park in 2015
archaeological sites for which the park is famous.
In  6th grade, students go on a two-night camping trip in Golden Gate Canyon State Park in the fall. Their spring trip in May takes the class to the Black Hills of South Dakota for five days and four nights. During this trip, students connect to the middle school’s overarching question for this year, “How does Earth’s formation impact world cultures?” in several concrete ways. Through visits to Mickelson Rail Trail, Wind Cave, and Mammoth Site, they will explore elements of earth’s formation from the perspectives of geology, paleontology and ecology. Their visits to Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse monument will help them see how aspects of the area influenced the people who lived there, including Native American Indians, the Pioneers, and current residents and visitors.

6th graders combine active opportunities that take advantage of the local terrain with educational offerings that highlight the natural and cultural history of the area. This year, they will also take time to reflect on our first pioneering year and consider the leadership roles our students will play as 7th graders next fall.

Trust exercises at the Colorado Mountain Club this week
Of course, these larger trips are just part of our overall field trip program.  All of our classes, as our wonderful volunteer drivers know, take regular field trips throughout Boulder County, down to Denver and points in between.

Friends’ students are integrated into the greater community through regular field trips. These have included trips to pumpkin patches and organic farms, and visits to the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado History Museum, Colorado Mountain Club, the National Center of Atmospheric Research, Longmont History Museum, and many many more places.  

Helen Keller famously said, “Life is either an adventure or nothing.” All of us at Friends’ are very excited for our students and their adventures.  We love presenting them with opportunities to bond as a class, to give them lessons they might not learn back at school, and to recognize their desire and need to spread their wings as they grow. 

Bon voyage to all our field trippers!

March 1, 2017

100,000 Hugs

Greetings from cloudy Baltimore, where I am attending a national independent schools conference. I hope you have had a good week. While I am away from our campuses, I am unfailingly grateful for all of our staff, especially our leadership team, for keeping things running smoothly in my absence.

As a school head, much of what I do is away from the attention of our students.  This is partly why, on many occasions over the years, I have heard from the kids that the person who “really runs Friends’ School” is Ann Reid.

Ann is our beloved first impression of Friends’ for so many, whether it’s at the front door of the elementary school or on the phone.  And we couldn’t ask for a friendlier face.

I often tease Ann that it’s too bad she’s such an introvert.  But as we all know, Ann always has a giant smile, a warm hug, and a kind word for everyone.  I truly believe she is one of those rare people who has never met a human being whom she doesn’t like.

Ann tells me that she has the best two jobs in the whole world.  This is her 12th year at Friends’ School, manning the front desk as our Program Coordinator.  This year, she also is the recipient of a Glacier Award as she celebrates her 25th year as a sought after ski instructor at Copper Mountain. Many of our students, including yours truly, have benefitted from Ann’s expert coaching on the ski slopes.

Ann recently told me that she believes that Friends’ School “attracts the nicest people in the world.”  She loves working with the staff here, and is continually impressed at the commitment and dedication of our teachers and our administrative staff. She adores how everyone truly and deeply cares about one another.

And of course, she LOVES the children and parents who pass by her every day, with whom she has developed hundreds of special relationships over the years. One of our 2nd graders described Ann as
“the Friends’ School hostess, the Friends’ School doctor, and the Friends’ School genius!”

I asked Ann how many hugs she gives and gets each day. She estimated about 50.  If you multiply that by 172 school days a year, over 12 years, that’s over 100,000 hugs! No wonder she loves her job!

Ann has commented on many occasions how impressed she is by the families who attend Friends’ School. She loves how our parents are devoted to their children and pay attention to the whole child. She so values that our parents want their children to be successful, and that success is not measured by whether our children are accepted into the most selective colleges, but is judged by the things that really matter: kindness, resilience, problem-solving, and getting on well with others. Ann’s goals for our children are to help them grow into better people.

Before coming to Friends’, Ann was a physician recruiter, a staff manager for US West, and a stay-at-home mom.  She used to spend hours volunteering in what is now our Friends’ School middle school, when it was once home to Boulder Country Day School where her children attended.

We can proudly add “matchmaker” to Ann’s resumé, as it was she who introduced her son Chris to one of our teacher candidates a couple of years ago. Shannon and Chris are getting married this summer!  It’s a big year for Ann and her husband Cameron, because their daughter Allie is expecting her first child this summer, along with her husband Jared. Congratulations to the whole family!

Ann describes her job as making everyone else’s job easier at Friends’. She knows EVERYONE by name, including your babysitter, your grandma, and your dog; she brings some of our preschoolers to their weekly yoga class in what she affectionately calls the “Namasté Train”; she loves recess duty; she writes our weekly Happenings and Pulse (internal) newsletters; she runs our fire drills; she purchases supplies for our teachers; she fixes boo-boos with an endless supply of ice packs; she coordinates several of our elementary programs;
and most importantly, she loves our kids.

In Ann’s own words, “Everyone is so kind to me. I get back 10 billion times what I give to this work. Where else can I dress up as the Tin Man or Waldo, dance in a flashmob, pull the fire alarm, and be paid for it?! Everyone at Friends’ fills my bucket every day!”

And you fill ours, Ann Reid, you fill our buckets.  Every day. Thank you for the 100,000 hugs!